What is an IP Address?

Screenshot of an IP Address Configuration

No doubt you’ve heard the term “IP Address” before, but unless you’re technologically inclined you probably have no idea what it means or how it actually works.

Luckily, the basics of an IP address aren’t too difficult to understand, and by the end of this short article you should have a fairly good idea of what it is, why it’s important, and how to change it.

Let’s begin.

Overview

An IP address, short for Internet Protocol address, is an identifier assigned to every internet enabled device for the purpose of network communications.

To simplify the idea behind an IP address, you can think about the process of mailing a letter. If you want to send a letter or package to your friend overseas, you need to know their exact location (physical address). You can’t just put their name on the box, slap a stamp on it, and expect it to reach them.

The same idea applies to the internet. When you’re doing anything online, you’re constantly sending and receiving packets of data. And similarly to using a phone book to look up someone’s address, your computer uses DNS servers to look up hostnames with the intention of finding their IP addresses.

For example, when you enter a URL, let’s say www.google.com, into your browser, your computer looks up the hostname (google.com) in the DNS servers in order to find its IP address (216.58.192.206) before displaying the requested webpage.

IP Address Standards

The traditional IP protocol, known as IPv4, uses a 32-bit number to represent both network and host IP Addresses. If you do the math, you’ll find that a 32-bit number will allow for roughly 4,000,000,000 (4 billion) unique IP combinations.

However, as more devices get connected to the internet every single day, the 32-bit IP combinations began to run out. In order to prevent this from happening, a new IP protocol was created (IPv6), allowing for a virtually limitless number of combinations.

Internet-enabled Devices

Every internet-enabled device (desktops, laptops, smartphones, printers, etc.) receives an IP address from their ISP after being connected to a network.

As a result of accessing the internet, it becomes possible to determine a person’s geolocation from their IP address alone. There are many things that can be done with a person’s IP address, most popular of which has to do with content censorship and targeted advertising.

It’s also possible for hackers and cybercriminals to exploit your IP address for a number of less legitimate uses. For example, if your IP address falls into the wrong hands, it’s possible (with enough know-how) to carry out a number of attacks including Distributed Denial of Service (DDos), Brute Force SSH, Man in the Middle, and a slew of others.

For that reason, it’s important to treat your IP address the same way you would your home address in order to reduce possible threats.

How to Change your IP Address

Whether you’re trying to access geo-restricted content, bypass censorship, or reset your P2P network download allowance, there are many legitimate reasons for wanting to change your IP address.

Fortunately, doing so is incredibly easy, especially with the help of a VPN. Many popular VPN providers offer a one-click solution that allows users to effortlessly change their IP address by tunnelling their internet connection through a VPN server.

Most providers also allow their users to manually fine tune their location by selecting an IP address from a list of popular cities around the globe.

While there are countless VPN providers to choose from, my go to recommendation (and personal favourite) is IPVanish. You can read our in depth review or visit the provider directly, by following the links below.